Trent Boult will be a key factor in New Zealand’s fortunes at the Cricket World Cup in June. David Leggat caught up with the Blackcaps star bowler before the team headed to the UK.
This June, they are in England and Wales to contest the 12th edition of the One Day International (ODI) tournament.
My mind goes back to 28 February, 2015. On a hot, cloudless day, Auckland’s unloved concrete citadel Eden Park had 40,000 fans squeezed in for the group game against the Aussies. The atmosphere was electric. To New Zealand minds, it doesn’t get any better than a tasty trans-Tasman duel.
Batting first, Australia were 96 for four and wobbling. Step forward New Zealand’s star left-arm bowler Trent Boult. In the space of just 17 balls, he ripped out five Australian wickets at a personal cost of a solitary run. Given the context, the opposition and the setting, it was an unforgettable half-hour.
Now 29, Boult, the pride of Bay of Plenty, is in his prime. He ranks among the finest bowlers in the world, capable of devastating spells, and that’s when he’s not being simply top class.
Boult and his older brother Jono started life in Rotorua (Jono, 33, played more than 100 games for Northern Districts as a spin bowling all-rounder). Their parents, Ian and Wendy, moved to Ōhope and finally Welcome Bay in Tauranga, where they still live.
That would encourage most sports-minded boys outdoors, and the young Boults made the most of their setting. According to Jono, it was those days at Pohutakawa Ave, Ōhope, just over the hill from Whakatāne, that fostered their love of cricket.
“We played a lot of backyard cricket against each other. It was very competitive,” he recalls. “There were big bald patches at each end where you batted or bowled. Mum hated getting her grass ruined. She’d be inside and the ball was smashing against the fence and side of the house. She’d be yelling, but we kept going.”
Welcome Bay meant cricket on the street with the neighbouring kids until dark. Most sports were played, except rugby. “I was never big or brave enough to want to have a dip at that,” says Trent. “Anything with a [round] ball I was after. And surfing – anything to do with the water. We loved our fishing growing up there. It was part and parcel of the Bay of Plenty lifestyle.” Suffice to say, this was not a house where PlayStation ruled.
Although he was a skinny teenager, Boult clearly had talent, even if it didn’t initially catch the attention of important heads within Northern Districts cricket. He was 15, bowling at Jono at a national under-19 tournament in Lincoln, Christchurch, when he was first spotted by cricket selectors. Calls were made, questions asked, and from there his progress accelerated.
In 2011, he made his test debut in one of New Zealand’s most celebrated test victories, over Australia in Hobart, by a nerve-jangling seven runs. That came after suffering his worst injury, a stress fracture in his back that sidelined him for much of 2009 and 2010. “In a way, I was very happy that happened to me,” he reflects. “I learnt a lot about myself and what’s needed from a conditioning and body point of view, being able to sustain playing, training and coping with everything that comes with it.”
No question he’s among the fittest of New Zealand players – an immensely athletic, agile sportsman. That brings a rueful chuckle from former Blackcaps batsman Peter Fulton, who captained the young Boult on his first-class debut for New Zealand A in India in late 2008. “In Chennai, it was 37°C, ridiculously humid and really unpleasant,” says Fulton. “I think he cramped up after about five overs. Now he’s one of the best athletes in international cricket, and that just shows how much work he’s done on that side of his game.”
Boult’s first captain at Northern Districts, James Marshall, remembers a young man who “took immense pride in attention to detail. It was something Trent took on board pretty quickly.”
Such has been Boult’s rise that he sits third among all New Zealand bowlers for taking test wickets, behind only the great Sir Richard Hadlee (431) and spin bowling all-rounder Daniel Vettori (361). Boult has 246 from 61 tests. He’s also taken 147 one-day international wickets in 79 games, with Vettori’s 297 top of that list. Retaining form and fitness, he could catch Vettori’s one-day mark. Hadlee’s test record is another story.
There’s an ad running on New Zealand television that’s set in a cricket practice net, where Boult and an actor are in conversation. Boult’s line is that he wants to take more wickets for New Zealand than anyone else. But to be clear: he doesn’t have tickets on himself. “I’d love to take 431 wickets, but I’m never going to get there,” he says.
Even after winning an eye-popping $1 million contract to play a few weeks in the lucrative Indian Premier League two years ago, his response when asked what he’d be splashing out on was: “Dunno. New pair of jeans, maybe.”
“When they put that [TV] script in front of me, I said, ‘Do I have to say this? Can I say I want to be New Zealand’s highest-ever run scorer?’ They said no.”
The joke’s typically self-deprecatory. Boult bats No 11, bottom of the order, and while he’s among the better tail-enders in the game, gifted with a sharp eye and high degree of invention at the batting crease, he’s still last man in.
So, who is the man behind the cricketer?
Importantly, he’s in charge of the music in the New Zealand dressing room. His taste is said to be modern, but not a specific genre (no 1960s classics, thank you). He appears several times in the popular band Six60’s video of their hit “White Lines”. He loves living in Mt Maunganui.
Boult has the drive to succeed, but not to the point of obsession. And if he’d had to find a job in the real world, he likes to think he would have got a trade “on the tools”. Cricket television commentary box, alongside a clutch of former players? No, thanks.
He isn’t wedded to statistics, either. He once took six wickets in an innings against Australia in Hamilton – and a day later dropped from top place on the world bowling rankings. Today, he’s ranked No 2 in one-day cricket and No 7 in test matches.
“Seriously, I do not understand how those rankings work. I’m more driven by taking wickets and winning matches. If I’m fifth best in the world or first, I’m still the same bowler I was last week,” he says. “I play purely for the reason to play with my mates; I play to win and I also feel I have a big role to try and inspire kids to play cricket.
“I’ve had many discussions with a lot of people about kids growing up in New Zealand. All they want to be is [All Black greats] Richie McCaw or Dan Carter, and that’s bloody brilliant. But there should be room for kids who want to idolise the sort of guys I looked up to. I hope there are kids out there saying, ‘I’d love to be a Blackcap and bowl like [fast- bowling chums] Timmy [Southee] or Wags [Neil Wagner], or me, or whoever it is.”
Boult’s success is built on an uncanny ability to swing the ball in the air, either in towards the right-hand batsman or angled across him towards the slip fielders chasing the edge of the bat. The later it swings, the more difficult it is for the batsman. Delivered at a sharp but not express speed, it’s a technique that requires skill, dedication and hard work. You don’t get that good by luck.
Now add in the athleticism, which has brought him a swag of stunning catches. His hand-eye co-ordination is impressive, which might help account for a golf handicap of four. But Boult reckons he hasn’t had a chance to play golf since his family grew by one with the arrival of son Bowie late last year. He met his Tauranga-born wife, Gert, in 2013 and they married four years later. His appreciation of life outside the cricket boundary rope has grown with his son’s birth.
“You chat to past, or senior, players who have kids, and you see them travelling around with them,” he says. “They say how quickly life changes, and how quickly you grow up. I think it puts into perspective what I do for a living… bowling a ball at people.
“It [reminds me] it’s just a game – coming home every night to see my smiling baby and my wife… it definitely makes me miss them even more.”
Boult, who has Māori heritage through Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tahu and Ngā Te Rangi iwi, was in Christchurch preparing with his New Zealand team-mates for the third and final test against Bangladesh on the day of the mosque terror attacks, 15 March. He still shakes his head at the memory. “The first thing [that came to mind] was this isn’t our country,” he says. “We were told to rush back to the hotel because there’d been a shooting. You don’t believe it. We travel the world and we’re not able to go to certain countries [Pakistan and also Afghanistan, which was recently promoted to test cricket status]. But this is our country. It was pretty unbelievable.”
As for the World Cup, Boult believes the New Zealand team can’t simply repeat their methods of 2015, but will need to find another way to skin the cat. Under Brendon McCullum’s bracing, assertive captaincy, the Blackcaps came desperately close, but “you need your own catch cries and motivations. And I like the new [competition] format.”
All 10 teams will play each other this time, rather than being split into two groups to find qualifiers for a knockout round. As Boult puts it: “Last time, we didn’t play Pakistan or India. How can you say you’re champions if you haven’t played everyone?”
Three to watch at the World Cup
Colin de Grandhomme
Few players in cricket can match de Grandhomme for hitting power. Among the skills you want in your one-day team is a player who can rip away the game from the opposition with rapid, damaging ball striking. The quietly spoken, Zimbabwe-born all-rounder scores his runs fast. When asked to explain his batting modus operandi, he keeps it succinct: “See ball, hit ball.” If you’re after a detailed analysis of an innings, forget it. He’s a man of few words, at least publicly. Having played for Zimbabwe at the under-19 World Cup in 2004, de Grandhomme left his family in Harare in 2006 to find other cricket opportunities. His medium-pace bowling is tidy, but it’s the crunching, clean hitting that makes him a potential match winner at this year’s World Cup. Consistency, it must be said, is not a strong suit. But when he walks out to bat, best not drift off to make a cup of tea. You could miss something special.
Listen to any intelligent conversation about the world’s best batsmen, and the New Zealand captain will be among those named. He’s been ranked No 1 in test cricket and is as good a batsman as New Zealand has had. Williamson is a technically superb batsman, a sharp catcher and a deep thinker on the game. Watch him in the field and you can see his mind racing, if he’s not conversing with a bowler or moving a fielder to obtain maximum effect. In the nicest way, he’s also something of an obsessive on cricket. He’ll go into the World Cup with an outstanding one-day average of 45.9. He has made 31 international centuries for New Zealand, and none of the game’s major nations has escaped punishment. He has the ability to pace his innings to be most effective, easing through the gears to accelerate his run rate once set. And, try as you might – and many have – you won’t get him talking about his own feats. It’s all about “the team” for this most modest of skippers.
New Zealand’s senior player, Taylor is a 13-year international veteran who’s scored more one-day runs than any other New Zealand batsman (8026); at the best average (48.34); and with most hundreds (20). He’s the world’s third-ranked one-day batsman, and his test figures are in the top echelon, too. Alongside Williamson, Taylor is half of one of the best No 3-No 4 batting combinations in international cricket. Once he has his eye in, the 35-year-old is capable of batting with a rare fury, most memorably in hitting his highest one-day score, 181 not out against England in Dunedin last year, despite having an injured leg. He possesses a couple of distinctive strokes all of his own – and, as with Williamson, has the ability to settle himself in before putting his foot down. His ability to cash in late in an innings is impressive, too. This will be his last World Cup, so expect him to be up for a grand finale.
New Zealand at the World Cup
The quadrennial tournament is held in England and Wales from 30 May to 14 July. Ten nations will compete in a single, full round-robin format; the top four advance to the semi-finals, and the final is at Lord’s in London. Catch the action on Sky Sport.
The BlackCaps’ schedule (NZ time):
1 June (9.30pm) v Sri Lanka, Cardiff
6 June (12.30am) v Bangladesh, The Oval, London
9 June (12.30am) v Afghanistan, Taunton
13 June (9.30pm) v India, Nottingham
19 June (9.30pm) v South Africa, Birmingham
23 June (12.30am) v West Indies, Manchester
26 June (9.30pm) v Pakistan, Birmingham
30 June (12.30am) v Australia, Lord’s, London
3 July (9.30pm) v England, Durham
Semi-finals 9 July (9.30pm) Manchester; July 11 (9.30pm) Birmingham
Final 14 July (9.30pm) Lord’s, London
This article was first published in the June 2019 issue of North & South.